“Unfortunate and unacceptable.” Baltimore's new mayor inherits massive murder problem

When former Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott took over as the Mayor of Charm City last month, he must have been aware that he was walking into a figurative buzzsaw. He had run his campaign on a platform of eliminating corruption in Baltimore and getting the city’s spiraling murder rate under control. Those are noble sentiments, but each of those tasks would obviously make cleaning out King Augeas’ stables look like a walk in the park by comparison. Still, he’s settled into his new role and begun issuing directives aimed at improving life on the streets of Baltimore. Unfortunately, somebody didn’t give the city’s gangs the memo because they’ve continued merrily mowing people down straight into the Christmas season.

Five people were murdered over this past weekend, with multiple other shooting victims injured. Four more people, two women and two men, were killed on Monday. The city’s death toll now stands at almost 330, marking five years in a row where Baltimore was unable to keep the murder toll below 300. Mayor Scott reacted to the news of the latest round of killings with what sounded like weary disappointment in some of his citizens.

Mayor Brandon Scott called the killings “unfortunate and unacceptable.”

“The significance of what we have to do in our city, focusing again on the folks committing the violence and violent repeat offenders in these small groups, focusing again on guns that are coming into our city, but also focusing on our ability to deal with addiction and all the other things that are helping to drive violence in the city.”

”We are working constantly through having smart deployment strategies, putting officers where we know they need to be, based on patterns and trends of crimes,” Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said at a news conference Monday.

The Mayor and the Police Chief went on to say that they are doing what they can along those lines, but “we need help from the community.”

This all sounds well and good, but the fact is that I’ve been following and covering the gang violence situation in Baltimore for nearly a decade now and we’ve heard almost identical statements from Scott’s predecessors. (At least when they weren’t busy being hauled off to jail on corruption charges.) Every recent mayor has talked about being “smarter” about where they deploy the police, getting guns off the street, and identifying the repeat shooters. But nobody before Scott has managed the trick and it’s unclear how his plans are any different.

As for getting “help from the community,” all I can say is good luck with that. We hear constantly from church groups and community organizations who are outraged about the crime rates. But Baltimore literally could have authored the phrase “snitches get stitches.” Plenty of members of the Baltimore PD who are willing to be honest about it have admitted that the gangs in Baltimore control significant sections of turf. There are parts of the city where the cops won’t even get out of their cars unless they’re answering an emergency call and they have their guns drawn.

The residents of those neighborhoods would no doubt love to be rid of the gangs. But they also know that being seen talking to “the five-oh” can result in a rapid trip to the hospital, if not the cemetery. Asking the community to buy into the need to identify and eliminate the shooters is a daunting task.

But this is the reality that Brandon Scott is facing. I’m not trying to sound too harsh here, but he asked for this job and now he has it. It’s time to do the job. The first responsibility of the chief executive is to keep his citizens safe and if Brandon Scott can’t do that then he will be a failure just as the four mayors before him were. Eliminating drug addiction in the city would go a long way toward reducing the power of the gangs, but that’s a puzzle that nobody has been able to solve.

As far as eliminating corruption in Baltimore, that’s another challenge that Scott appears to have no plan for. He’s already abandoned his plan to reduce the power of the Mayor’s office over budget control. He’s not exactly sweeping up the old guard with a new broom, either. Unless and until there are new faces replacing the same old power brokers that have controlled Baltimore for generations, it’s difficult to see how anything is going to change just because there’s a new mayor in town.